Who knew that two years ago as I was prepared to share with you my observations as someone who moved to Cincinnati from Seattle that it would be two years more before I would actually have time to do so? Two years? Hard to believe. As I intimated in the post just before this one, two major factors have kept me from writing: Raising a new puppy, and losing a lot of photos. Rest assured, my PedalPinting has continued all along. I have expanded my prowess in navigating this city, and new breweries have opened up. I am eager to share with you this new knowledge, and all the fun!
As for sharing my observations of Cincinnati as an outsider? Now I think I have time and am ready. As I told you in the past, I have been paying attention.
Those of you who have followed me, be you PedalPinters or not, and those who have simply read the subtitle of this blog know that we moved to Cincy from Seattle. What you may not know is I have moved around this country quite a bit. I wouldn’t change that. It’s been an experience-rich life so far.
I find myself holding two views of Cincinnati:
1. Things suck here, and that’s just the way it is.
2. It’s not that bad.
Following is a writeup of the culture around the city, after which will appear a simple list of points – observations and their implications. These points will, as much as possible, include a photo I have taken serving as an example. I will begin this study of Cincinnati tonight, laying out my view, and I will add entries to the list of examples/points and photos in the coming days. Check back often for updates.
Here is a feel for why Cincinnati sucks and that’s just the way it is:
An old-fashioned city.
It has become clear to me that this is an old-fashioned city. I am not saying old-fashioned is always bad. I have many old-fashioned views and qualities, and I am certainly not someone who is quick to jump to accepting all things new and popular. What I see though is that people here seem behind the times in some ways, and I suspect they like it that way.
The most glaring example for me, and the one that most relates to what we do here at Twopedalsacouplepints is the prevailing attitude toward cycling on the roadways. Never before, anywhere I have lived, have I had it shouted at me: “Get on the sidewalk!!” – not “get off the road.” It is clear that a great number of people here believe that people riding bicycles should only do so on the sidewalk! I am reminded of the infamous picture of Mayor Cranley sporting a bike from the newly-rolled out Red Bike program by riding it. Where? On the sidewalk!!
Further examples can be found in the population’s participation rate in recycling, and the attitude toward the concept of recycling. It’s a glaring difference from what you see in Seattle. To start, you see written on the recycling bins and/or trucks the slogan “Cincinnati Recycles.” Okay. Whoop dee doo! Don’t make like it’s some extraordinary thing to recycle. Recycling in Seattle is much more an integrated foregone conclusion about which the City does not attempt to brag. What I see as I walk and run my athletic dog, and as I bicycle around Cincinnati is that trash cans are amazingly heavy (I know this because I very often have to move them out of the way as they are placed blocking the sidewalk) and the recycling bins are light. Some of the big, nice houses around Hyde Park have two or three trash bins, and just one recycling bin. Our household produces probably at least three times as much recycling as landfill waste. We traded in our full-sized trash bin for the small size and we rarely fill it up halfway. I also see a ton of recyclable material in landfill-bound trash bins, and I see recyclables like big cardboard boxes set out on non-recycling days.
Now, look at diet and eating habits and customs in Cincinnati. Obviously you have the whole chili thing. You also have it just assumed (and this is certainly not unique to Cincy) that everyone eats meat. Barbeque this, hamburger and hot dog that. Trying to raise a child who does not eat meat and does not consume a bunch of junk is a challenge here. Heck, the public school hands out candy for good behavior! Pathetic.
Consider also just how car-centric Cincinnati is. It may sound dramatic, but I really feel quite alone when I bicycle anywhere in this town. I am an alien in a hostile land. I very much long for the feeling, not just of collegiality, but of relative safety that I got cycling in some parts of Seattle. There were a lot of other cyclists on the streets with me, which leads to them being expected and accepted. Cycling in Cincy, you just feel that you are going out there and running against the grain – angering people and taking such a risk. Cincinnati is most certainly not alone in this, but it is just automatic in people’s minds that if you need to leave your house you get in the car or truck.
A surprisingly segregated city, both in terms of income/social standing and of race.
I also find Cincinnati to be very much a place of the haves and the have-nots. Wealth and status are worn on the sleeve. The kind of car you drive appears to be very crucial (and predictable). Let’s just say the Kias and the Hyundais are reserved for the young, the (non-wealthy) college students and those who don’t earn much money. If you have a respectable career or social standing you are not seen in one of these vehicles.
This, I believe, is tied into the very evident attitude toward pedestrians. If you attempt to get around without the aid of a motor vehicle, you are disregarded, disrespected and endangered. You are seen as a second-class citizen at best. It is clear – and I certainly noticed this when I lived across the river in Northern KY as well –that people on foot had just better stay the heck out of the way of drivers or pay the price. Drivers will turn in front of you, cutting you off almost without fail – this whether or not you are in a crosswalk. Shocking and disturbing is the frequency of reports of pedestrians killed or injured by drivers in Cincinnati.
So, if you try to get somewhere without firing up a motor vehicle, you are in a sense viewed as a have-not – a loser or someone who must be down on their luck. After all, why doesn’t that loser walking along the street have a car? I submit to you that there is a racist component tied into this. I observe that a lot of the people walking places are black. Do I think that they are walking for exercise, or because they chose to leave the car at home? No, I suspect many of them cannot afford to drive. There you have the tie-in to the haves and the have nots. It does seem to me that to a large degree the black population of Cincinnati is struggling financially. So, as a white man, I am grouped by drivers into that same perceived class of people (not that most drivers do much actual thinking behind the wheel). I am walking or running to the grocery store so I am a loser who wishes he had a car. Now, consider the ridership of the “Metro” buses around town. Look at the race of the riders. I’ve observed that it is overwhelmingly black. Mass-transit options should be embraced by all, and used widely, not just those who aren’t able to afford to drive a personal car.
Some of you will misconstrue my words. To you, I say: Be honest – with yourself, then with others.
Here’s why Cincinnati is not that bad:
A city of “firsts,” “only-s” and “biggests.”
I often learn of facts regarding Cincinnati that reveal that this or that was the first of its kind in the nation. I learn of places, establishments, or things that are the biggest, or the only, in the country.
The Reds were the first professional baseball team (right? I don’t know for sure).
The Cincinnati Zoo is the second oldest zoo in the country.
I learned from the owner of a local brewery that Cincinnati’s water treatment plant is something like the most respected in the nation. That really surprised me. I guess if you’re pulling drinking water from the Ohio River you had better be very good at cleaning it. Of course, the quality of the water that you have at your house depends heavily on the condition, and length, of the pipes between the plant and your house. So here we have a “best.”
I learned on one of the OTR guided tours (which we finally took when out-of-town guests came to visit) that much of – most of? – the iron work like balcony railings and the like in New Orleans was made in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati was one of the largest brewing cities in the nation before prohibition.
You get the idea. Some examples are slipping my mind at the moment. Feel free to share more examples in the comment section!
We do seem to have a good amount of parks, and they are pretty nice. I will mention the cool water fountains below in my list of observations. Even the ones that are in not-so-nice neighborhoods seem nice. This is, at least, my observation. I certainly have not been to all that many of our parks, nor have I visited the majority of the city’s neighborhoods, but it’s held true for me so far.
Surprising number of companies and businesses
You’ve got Kroger, P&G, Gorilla Glue and more very well-known companies here. We have the very respected Cincinnati Children’s. Beyond that, there seem to be a lot of businesses in Cincinnati. Seems a good thing in terms of jobs, though I haven’t really explored what it’s like to job-search here.
Pro football and pro baseball. Two nationally-known colleges
I am decidedly not a sports fan. I watch MMA as often as I can, as I have trained in it and I study self defense; but sports fan – yeah no. Still, it is pretty significant to me that we have the Bengals and the Reds – not just in our state, but right here in our very city. We also have Xavier and UC. That’s two (it seems to me) pretty major colleges right here. Now, it sucks, and baffles me, that both of them are surrounded by pretty sketchy areas of town; but at least they are here.
I’m not up on the politics surrounding The Banks development in Downtown near the riverfront. I am quite sure there are many who are anti-The Banks and are resentful about it – just as you can easily find folks who are anti and resentful about every single issue and thing. All I know is that what I have seen and experienced of Downtown Cincinnati is cleaner and nicer than Downtown Seattle. There also (at least used to be) far, far fewer panhandlers here than Seattle. I have surmised that enforcement must be responsible for this. The situation has been changing, though, in recent times for some reason.
Hello! Brewery taprooms being legalized, and the appreciable springing up of new breweries.
This one pretty much speaks for itself. We moved to Cincinnati – about three years ago – at just the right time! I’m not saying we have an awesome number of breweries here, but it is reaching a level where I am starting to respect it.
Fairly consistent positive developments in the area of Multi-Use Trails and bicycle facilities.
Here again, I am not saying things are great, or even good; but it really has (I reluctantly admit) been surprising how consistently I hear of positive things happening in this regard. Let’s see: Off the top of my head: Delta Ave bike lanes which I use often. Madison Ave bike lanes which see me often. A connector trail between Lunken and Armleder. The new trail from Newtown to *almost* Lunken. (who knows when that bridge will get built) The very recent definitive good news regarding The Wasson Way trail! It is still a long way off from being all that useful but I relish the idea of rolling on the new pavement over in Evendale or wherever the first section will be constructed. The multi-use trail along Wilmer was recently redone – in concrete no less. It used to be a bicycle wheel-bender at each driveway you cross. Now it is nice, to my knowledge. There just seems to be a consistent, albeit low-power, move in the right direction in terms of livability for not just cyclists but for all.
The Little Miami River, and the three squares
I feel fortunate, and appreciate the area of town in which I live. We are sort of in the SE section of Hyde Park. It is easy to get on Linwood Ave. and get down to access to the River, where I know of two separate kayak (or canoe) put-ins. You can also have your dog swim there, and maybe go swimming yourself. It’s very cool to have a river so close!
Where I live, we can walk/run to all three squares: Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, and Oakley. Some are farther than others, as you might imagine. The point is that it is nice to have, in a city where there are plenty of areas that are run down and not safe, these viable decent areas with community spaces – even small green spaces – and a few shops and restaurants that are useful to me/my family.
I am certainly forgetting some things, but I have laid out my two tales of this city. Now, on to the poignant, funny and/or frustrating observations! More soon! Check back, PedalPinters!
March 2nd update follows:
Oh, Cincinnati, why can’t we have nice things?
This was not on my list but does represent starkly and disgustingly one of my points regarding this city. Now, I am not simply taking a shot at the homeless (or necessarily blaming this on them) or suggesting that other cities don’t have public nuisance problems. This one by the way is not just a nuisance, it’s a disgusting health risk. This points, though, to what I’ve experienced in Cincinnati: You might try to enjoy something nice this place has to offer, but you will almost always have your experience affected by that base element of our local society that is ubiquitous.
Example: My family and I, for the first time, paid a visit to the very nice area of the park at Eden Park that has the pond, and city overlook, play set, etc. We had been to the grassy area across the street, but not yet this place. We were initially trying to visit the Khron Conservatory for their annual holiday display, but there was a long line so we visited the park while we formulated an alternate plan.
We get into the park and just after I realize how nice it is, it becomes apparent that it is largely occupied by people just hanging around. “Hanging around? How dare they!?” you say. I know, I know how I sound; but I am talking about people for whom this beautiful park is just their hangout. You’ve got cars just pulling through slowly – not looking for parking. Perhaps most illuminating were the multiple signs in the parking lot, along the overlook end, that admonished people that it is not allowed to wash cars there. To reiterate: Signs prohibiting the washing of cars in the park parking lot. This is a big enough problem, apparently, at this park.
This reminds me of another example: Hyde Park Plaza. You know, the shopping center that uses the name “Hyde Park” to add class to itself, yet it’s located in Oakley. Granted, the place is essentially the closest, general-purpose shopping center to Hyde Park so I cut them a bit of slack on the name hijack.
Here’s the thing: We can’t have anything freaking nice! This shopping center is overall pretty nasty. You’ve got what the management company describes, laughably, as the “Commons.” This is simply the sidewalk leading from Kroger on through and around the place. Too bad the “Commons” is littered with trash, cigarette butts (and smokers), discarded alcohol containers and even urine. Hyde Park Plaza is also home to Michael’s (you know, that big store that sells art supplies, crafts and crafty stuff kids like). Thing is, this is the only Michael’s I’ve seen that greets customers with big signs that warn you that you are on camera.
I often run into the problem where I need/would love to be able to run my dog to this shopping center and briefly tie him out as I pop into, say, Ace Hardware, Bruegger’s Bagels (a sad example of Bruegger’s), or the like and pick up a quick item or two that we need. I know, however, that I can’t. Why? Well, it’s hard to describe, but it’s just obvious that some of the frequenters of this center would make trouble for us instead of minding their own business. It’s these people for whom the public spaces are their business and their space. It’s like the shopping center is in a bad neighborhood, yet it is not. By contrast, I do sometimes tie out my dog and pop into REI in the Rookwood shopping center quickly. I know there will not likely be a problem caused by people who have nothing better to do.
I’m certainly not trying to be elitist, and I am far, far from wealthy; but I live and let live instead of being a public nuisance and menace. Shouldn’t everybody? Cincinnati, why can’t we have nice things?
March 11 Update Follows:
Lizards! Who knew? Imported sometime in the ’50s from Italy? Anyone?
March 12 Update Follows:
Ugly, jagged wires hanging off of power poles. It really is beyond me how the City, or the utility companies do not get sued for injuries resulting from this! I have had to physically protect my child and my dog from injury on this stuff. Seems kind of like just the way it is here, doesn’t it? People put up with this crap. I’ve seen this sort of stuff all over town.